"Though it may have always been the black sheep of an over-achieving family, if one were to be honest it would be hard to deny the PSP release of Vampire Chronicle some well deserved dues. For yet again Capcom have put together a solid, inspired one on one fighter, imbuing each and every character with a level of personality that simply cannot be beat."
If family truly is the tie that binds, then Capcom's Vampire series is in desperate need of a much overdue divorce. For it's having been born in the ever looming shadow of the great Street Fighter 2 that the assorted Vampire games have found themselves on the raw end of a very large stick. Where one franchise has obviously enjoyed the lavish attention bestowed upon it by some all too doting parents, the other has lived a life of leftovers and hand me downs, often to the detriment of its own personal development. Polish and refinement on the right, somewhat scratchy family shame on the left. Ying and yang apparently living in perfect domestic harmony. As luck would have it though, Capcom have finally decided to give the little guy a break by presenting it to the world in the guise of a recently in vogue, "mega-mix" style collection. The question remains however, will Vampire Chronicle mark a new beginning for everyone's favorite forgotten fighter? Or is it simply a love song serenade, dedicated to knowing fans with a wink and a smile? Personally, I'm just hoping it's trimmed its nails...
If wishes were horses...
Though it may have always been the black sheep of an over-achieving family, if one were to be honest it would be hard to deny the PSP release of Vampire Chronicle some well deserved dues. For yet again Capcom have put together a solid, inspired one on one fighter, imbuing each and every character with a level of personality that simply cannot be beat. Cat-girls, werewolves, a succubus or two. Throw in a Frankenstein monster and a number of original characters and we're talking a Halloween inspired melt down. Punches flying, kicks spinning, a giant fetal God sits angry in the background. Meanwhile Vampire Chronicle's own Little Red Riding Hood whips out the heavy artillery with authority, launching rockets and hand grenades from her wee little basket. And what do you think would Grandma say? She's cute, she's bloody, she going to look absolutely stunning regardless of your preferred screen size. 16:9 or 4:3, both purists and technophiles have a mode to suit all occasions. Satisfaction so far then, fully guaranteed.
But like many things in life, that statement has sadly come with a caveat, and it's one that you'll do well to bear in mind throughout the course of this review. Due to a design fault inherent with the original model PSP (PSP-1000K), Vampire Chronicle suffers from a slight case of the unresponsive controls. With the location of the square button not matching its corresponding sensors on the unit's circuit board, players may find themselves occasionally left open and vulnerable by a light or medium attack that's hardly the most reliable. Jump, kick, low light punch... nadda, cop a blow to the face. It's a terrible shame to be sure, but then again this is a problem with the hardware and Capcom's handiwork isn't really at fault. Disclaimers aside then, everything else handles exactly as it should... amazingly so all things considered. The PSP's instantly familiar button layout and responsive D-pad works a treat while fireballs and imitation Dragon Punches flow off the unit in a smooth and flawless fashion. Will wonders never cease?
If you've been with the series for a while though, you're probably ready for a change in pace. So what does Vampire Chronicle have to offer the likes of you? Nothing if you know your beat'em ups, absolutely everything if you don't. Borrowing the mission mode concept made famous by Namco's sublime Soul Caliber 2, Capcom have slapped together a new play mode that'll have the faithful swinging on long into the night. "Chaos Tower" is the name of the game, and it's here players select 3 of their favorite combatants for a one way, balls out slug-fest to the top. Fights are limited to a single round while a variety of handicaps are placed on what you, the player can and cannot do. No kicking and you're throwing punches, no throws and you're backing away. Loose a round and you'll loose a character, fail three times and you are out. Those who grit their teeth and push on however will be moving up in the world, collecting unlockable goodies and improving their skills no end. And while it may not be the most original of concepts, it fits the pick up and play rule of portable gaming to a tee. Fast and frantic action delivered in bite sized doses of meaty bravado.
Furthermore as previously stated, Vampire Chronicle represents something of an amalgamated collection of every Vampire/Darkstalkers game ever released. The differing rule sets, various combo attacks and bump in the night characters have been brought together to form this single, all encompassing whole. Want the faster than usual rounds of Vampire Savior spruced up with a little old school Hunter-style action? You're the boss Bub, do as you please. Bear in mind though that Capcom still haven't found the time to reign in some of the franchise's more powerful characters. And while long time players will no doubt be familiar with such issues, their continued dominance only authenticates the experience that much more. Even if the gameplay has been heavily skewed in favor of half a dozen fighters, that shouldn't affect single, solo loving players in the slightest. It just means that you'll have to be that much more selective when duking it out across the Wi-Fi, multiplayer network. Slam, bam, thank you ma'am. I'll be sure to choose someone else next time around...
... then Vampires would ride.
Whatever your thoughts on the franchise as a whole, the one unmistakable truth that permeates the entire Vampire Chronicle experience is that it's fun. Fast, fluid, and for now at least, untouchable fun. A rich compilation of classic Vampire tunes rounds things off, fueling the authentic arcade-like thrills with a deeply rooted sense of tear shedding nostalgia. From the grade "A" cartoon-esque graphics to the smooth and mostly responsive controls, Capcom's tradition of 2D fighting excellence appears to have finally made the transition to a portable format with everything intact. Note: everything. As in this is a complete package designed to welcome back veterans and induct newbies alike. And it's one that's sure to impress, if not for the action then for its generous helpings of dark humor and classic character design. Sure it may not be perfect, but then again so what? Street Fighter will always be #1 with the public at large, the rest of us will find our lunatic jollies in Vampire Chronicle. Warts, werewolves, cat-girls and all...
* Vampire Chronicle incorporates every Nighthunter/Darkstalker game into a single package
* Hardware faults aside, the controls are incredibly responsive
* With 18 characters to choose from, there's always a new technique to learn
* 16:9 widescreen or 4:3 arcade-o-vision, the choice is up to you
* Classic Capcom character designs lend the game a great sense of personality
* Generous lashing of dark humor will keep players smiling
* An authentic, "best of" soundtrack frames the action nicely
* It may not be perfect, but it's still the best one on one portable fighter for the time being
* Fundamental PSP design faults hamper the controls
* The line-up of characters isn't completely balanced
Staff review by Michael Scott (January 23, 2005)
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